I, and many others, have been critical of the strategies demanded by federal School Improvement Grants (see The Best Resources For Learning About The Four School Improvement Grant Models). These kinds of sweeping changes are seldom the most constructive ways to move a school community forward.

I was reminded of this last night when the PBS News Hour showed an encore presentation about changes in a Louisiana school. I don’t know much about the program “Diplomas Now” out of John Hopkins University, but I do like how the principal described their intervention:

DENISE CHARBONNET [Principal]: Johns Hopkins came, and what I really, really liked about them is that they didn’t come in and try to say that we needed to do everything differently. They came to say, what can we do to enhance what you are doing here? How can we make it better?

ROBERT BALFANZ [Diplomas Now]: We often have this vision that it’s because the adults weren’t succeeding. If we change the adults, find the right person to blame — maybe it’s the principal, maybe it’s the teachers — change them — maybe it’s the community — close the school — change them, we will be OK, and not recognizing that, by and large, people are really trying to do a good job, and they are just overwhelmed and overmatched.

Coincidentally, The Harvard Business Review shared this “management tip” today, based on an article they published titled “To Change the Culture, Stop Trying to “Change the Culture”:

When people don’t achieve company goals, senior managers often declare that it’s time to change the culture. But sweeping, large-scale culture change efforts rarely cure what ails a company. Managers get better results when they start with a few smaller successes. Start with one problem, for example a performance challenge. Get some people to run a couple of modest experiments that might solve the issue. Pay careful attention to what works and how. Incorporate the successful ideas into subsequent steps. Keep advancing an increasing number of performance improvements based on those early wins — and continue to learn from each subsequent experiment. Eventually you’ll have changed the culture by taking it one problem at a time.

Sigh….I wonder if more “school reformers” will ever figure this out….